February 26th, 2013
01:30 PM ET

The pope in retirement: What to expect

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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(CNN) - Don't expect a lot of shuffleboard games for the soon-to-be former Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter, Head of the College of Bishops, Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the Universal Church: Pope Benedict XVI.

On Thursday, at 8 p.m. in Rome, Benedict will become the first retired pontiff in 600 years. And with no modern guides, everything he does will be pioneering for a 21st century papal retiree.

The leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe will leave his seat at the ornate Apostolic Palace and retire to a former gardener's house at the Vatican to lead a life of prayer, likely removed entirely from public life.

The Vatican said Tuesday he will keep the name Benedict XVI and still be addressed as "his holiness." He will also be known as pope emeritus, emeritus pope or Roman pontifex emeritus.

He will forego his ornate papal wardrobe and elbow-length cape, called a mozzetta, for a simple white cassock. He also will retire his famous red shoes in favor of a brown pair picked up on his trip to Mexico last year.

The 85-year-old will first leave Rome to go to the papal retreat Castle Gandolfo until a successor is named. Then he will head to the Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church) building, which formerly housed a cloistered convent in the Vatican gardens.

While "convent" or "monastery," as officials have been calling it, may be the right name for the former home of a group of cloistered nuns tasked with prayer for the pope, the space does not have the long stone-arched hallways and massive common areas evoked by such terms.

The pope's new home

"It used to be the gardener's house," Sister Ancilla Armijo said. "It's just a small house. What they added was just a library for the sisters and a new chapel."

Armijo is a nun in the Benedictine Order at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado, not far from the Wyoming border. From October 7, 2004, to October 7, 2009, she and six other Benedictine sisters from around the world lived in Mater Ecclesiae praying for the pope - first for an ailing Pope John Paul II and then all the way through to the election and papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Armijo joined the order in 1972 at age 16. She said joining a cloistered group of international nuns on the Vatican grounds was unique.

While the house has a sense of being removed from the Vatican, she said it provides views of the papal apartment, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

"We felt connected to the Vatican itself," she said, although "it's not like there's any access to the Vatican itself, the main buildings or anything like that."

The Mater Ecclesiae is "very small" and "very hot," she said. "There's no trees shading it. I think it'll work for him if they have air conditioning for him. They'll have to remodel the kitchen and things like that because it was so simple."

While she lived there, bars adorned the windows and separated the nuns from their visitors in the meeting room, in keeping with a cloistered, set-apart lifestyle.

When Benedict arrives, he can stroll the private courtyard and take in the perfumed aroma from the 15 or so John Paul II rose bushes, a white-petaled flower cultivated in honor of his predecessor. Armijo said a group donated the rose bushes to the Vatican in honor of the late pontiff. Benedict gave them to the sisters to grow. Every two weeks they sent a bouquet up to the papal residence.

In the gardens, Armijo said, Benedict can also find lemon and orange trees in addition to a small vegetable garden used by the house for meals.

The monastery, when Armijo lived there, had a few bedrooms, a kitchen, a living area, a library and a chapel. The walls were plain and whitewashed. It does not bear the artistic treasures other parts of the Vatican hold, like Michelangelo's masterworks the Pieta sculpture in St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or the massive Last Judgment painting above the altar in the Sistine Chapel.

"The only real piece of art is in the chapel. It has a beautiful bronzed life-sized crucifix," Armijo said.

A life of prayer

In the chapel, the pope might say Mass every day for his small household, said Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship.

Benedict has said he will devote his life to prayer. There is no playbook for the life of prayer for a retired pope, Hilgartner said. "Nothing beyond the normal routine” for a monk or a priest.

He said that would include "prayer throughout the day and the liturgy of the hours, morning prayer, evening prayer, Mass every day."

Benedict is likely to keep a small staff at the house to tend to his needs. "He has some German sisters" - nuns - "who cared for him in his domestic needs at the Apostolic Palace and they're apparently moving with him to this monastery. So he'll provide for their spiritual needs, saying Mass every day," Hilgartner said.

There may be a stipend for the retired pope. Italian news outlets have reported retired clerics receive up to €2,500 a month. Hilgartner said Benedict won't need much if any money. The Vatican will take care of his lodging and his health care.

"He didn't have a pension because the presumption was he would be in office until he died," Hilgartner said. "His needs will be cared for. Because of the way he'll be living, those needs will be somewhat limited."

Back to the books

Benedict, a theologian by training, is likely to switch from universal pastor back to scholar.

"My sense is that he will lay low out of deference to the new pope, that he will stay out of the way and under the radar," Hilgartner said. He expects Benedict to behave mostly like a retired scholar, doing lots of reading and maybe a little writing.

Benedict was rumored to be working on his fourth encyclical before he announced he would resign, Hilgartner said. Encyclicals are papal letters to the church, often on pressing matters that carry the weight of the office the pope with them.

"He had written the encyclical on hope, the encyclical on love, and another one on social justice and charity," Hilgartner said, adding that the rumored fourth may be on faith. As a retired pope, Benedict's final encyclical would not carry the weight of the office.

That is something Benedict had not imposed on his previous scholarly works while in office.

"He was careful not to bless his own writings with the papacy," said Pia de Solenni, a moral theologian from Seattle.

When he published books as the pope, his byline was "Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI," de Solenni noted.

"I think he was willing to engage with others." She said his books are "a sharing of ideas, and he's putting his ideas out on paper. To me it's an incredible mark of his humility."

One thing is fairly certain: He won't be tweeting any longer. The Vatican said his official Twitter handle @pontifex will be retired along with Benedict.

Life beyond the walls of the Vatican

Benedict said he no longer had the strength to go on. After he announced his retirement, the Vatican said he had begun thinking about leaving the office after a strenuous papal visit barnstorming across Mexico and Cuba.

When he leaves the office he will give up his Fisherman's Ring, which takes its name from St. Peter's occupation. It will be destroyed along with "the lead seal of the pontificate," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

He will also be giving up his personal security detail, the 100 to 120 members of the Swiss Guard who are responsible for round-the-clock protection of the pope.

"He received security like any other head of state," former Swiss guard member Andreas Widmer said.

While best known for their Renaissance-era dress uniforms - brightly striped, puffy-sleeved shirts and pants - along with their ceremonial battle axes, they are a formidable modern security detail, according to Widmer, who now runs the entrepreneurship program at the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America.

Widmer had a kinship with Benedict in the late 1980s while he was a young German-speaking member of the guard and Benedict, whose native tongue is German, was a top cardinal serving John Paul II.

He described Benedict as an "unbelievable introvert." He said Benedict was always friendly with people at the Vatican one on one, even beggars on the streets, but large crowds sapped his energy.

The task of protecting two popes would have meant doubling the Swiss Guard force, a group unaffiliated with other Swiss security forces, as the guard predates the Swiss state.

But Widmer suspects that would not have been an issue anyway. His hunch is that Benedict will retire and remain cloistered.

"My guess is Benedict is not going to leave the Vatican," Widmer said. "It's not like he's going to make these huge moves. My guess is anything he's going to write and say will only come out after he dies."

A turbulent time

Before he became pope at age 78, Benedict had talked at length about retiring.

Speculation has swirled over what finally pushed him to step aside - Vatileaks, the sexual abuse crisis, or the growing tide of secularism.

The "Vatileaks" scandal began with his butler leaking documents showing disarray and mismanagement and led to an internal review that was reported to contain details of gay sex scandals - reports which the Vatican calls baseless - and money woes. Three cardinals reported their findings to the pontiff this week.

The Vatican spokesman said the matter was concluded and the pope would reveal the contents of the report only to his successor.

The sexual abuse scandal continues to haunt the church as reforms have slowly taken hold across the American church and other cases have surfaced around the globe.

While the vast majority of the abuse cases happened in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the recent revelation of more cases and the failings of the church in dealing with many of them have left fresh scars that have been slow to heal, victims' advocates say.

Cases are still in the process of being litigated. Two top American cardinals gave depositions shortly before they were to leave for Rome for the pope's farewell.

Benedict was unable to stop the tide of growing secularism in Europe and the United States, though he often railed against it.

All of this likely took its toll on the 85-year-old, who walks with a cane, has a pacemaker, and has looked increasingly frailer in recent months.

In retirement, he will have none of those global problems to sort out anymore. Those responsibilities will fall to the next pope.

Instead, Benedict has said his task will be prayer and reflection.

Sister Armijo said she cried when she found out the pope was resigning. But now that she has had time to process the idea, she said her feelings have shifted from sadness to gratitude.

"He's a person of great courage to do something like this. To dedicate his life to prayer. I think it will help people to see there's a value to dedicating your life to prayer," she said.

"Prayer is something worth dedicating your life to."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope John Paul II • Vatican

soundoff (401 Responses)
  1. Johnny B Good

    Maybe the Pope never saw " The wizard Of OZ", for if he had, he would know that he just needs to tap the heels of his "red shoes" and he would return to Kansas or wherever!

    February 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Looks like a lady in a dress with fancy shoes on. Whose idea was it to have these people dress up like clowns? I think they should wear a loin cloth just like me.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • ViK100

      I agree.. the Pope doesn't have time to watch garbage like that.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Vik100, watch Wizard of Oz and have Pink Floyd on the stero. If you don't see god, drop some acid and start the movie and album over.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Vik100, sorry, Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  2. ViK100

    God Bless you Benedict XVI!!!

    February 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • mailer daemon


      Message undeliverable. Please check your records for the existence of such an ent'ity.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  3. Jesus Christ Son of God

    So, the pope is just a man, who is just in a position at the top of an organization, whose purpose is to control the masses. If he was truly a holiy relic, wouldn't he live forever? Better yet, let's put him on a cross, just like me.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  4. historian

    The only book he"ll read is "Mein Kampf" He's dirty................................

    February 26, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
  5. Cause it ain't

    Give the old man a break. You know what they say: pope-in' ain't easy.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  6. Dave Wilson

    This sick individual has covered up child abuse, and plans to hide for the rest of his life in the Vatican to avoid arrest and prosecution. There should be no coverage of him other than as a wanted criminal in hiding.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • ViK100

      Same sentence Jesus received.. no worries. A true Catholic doesn't worry about mere accusations and dying on the cross.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  7. Nare

    What does a pope do in retirement? I'm looking at those red shoes and that long blouse and thinking it's gotta be tiptoe through the tulips....gotta be.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  8. historian

    he was a member of the Nazi Youth Group. He was not forced into it. He had to constantly prove that he was a Nazi.
    You only get to stay in if you meet the strict requirements. His Nazi friends would of seen it if he wasn't true, and he would of been thrown out. He entered after careful selection, and make no mistake about it, he was one of the Arien race.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • ViK100

      OK – Who was St. Paul??

      February 26, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
  9. Descartes Shaman

    The best thing the pope can do is admit the lies and the cover up of the catholic church and devote the rest of his life to something. I'm not surprised at all about the cover up as this has been happening for years. I just can't believe people are actually surprised this is going on.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  10. oldowl

    So. Who gets the ruby slippers?

    February 26, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
  11. historian

    He will stand in front of a mirror, and keep saying "Heil Hitler!!"

    The fact of the matter is that he was in the Nazi youth and he was not, I repeat noit forced to join. In order to be in the grouop they had to constantly prove they were superior and the chosen ones. He would have be dismissed very quickly if he wasn't part of the group. Heil Hitler Pope!

    February 26, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  12. Lacrimae Rerum

    Dear CNN: While Catholics everywhere appreciate your attempt to deliver news from the Vatican, please stop going over and over this situation. All it does is encourage the daily Troll Convention. It is sad and reveals just how mean-spirited people can be. We'll get our Vatican news from other sources. Thanks anyway.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • J06

      Thank you for posting this. Not sure why I'm reading all these replies, maybe trying to understand why so many feel the need to opine on something they know nothing about.

      February 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  13. Lacrimae Rerum

    Dear CNN: While Catholics everywhere appreciate your attempt to deliver news from the Vatican, please stop going over and over this situation. All it does is encourage the daily Troll Convention. It is sad and reveals just how mean-spirited people can be. We'll get our Vatican news from other sources. Thank you.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • Felix Sinclair

      Turn the other cheek and forgive the trolls like a good Catholic. And don't judge people to be trolls. Judging others is a no-no.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • ViK100

      It's CNN's agenda to attack Christianity. Just look who runs CNN.. a bunch of gay people. You wonder why the attacks??

      February 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  14. The Flamingo Kid

    DOWN WITH THE CATHOLICS! It is going to be such fun watching this crime ring fall.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • ViK100

      over 2,000 years of persecution.. Still standing. This will be no different. Sorry to dissapoint you.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Psst's understudy

      It's "disappoint."

      February 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Jeff

      You will probably be dead and horse meat on someone dinner table before that even comes close to happening.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
  15. Jeebus Chreebus

    Everyone knows that retired popes get to spend more time doing the things they love.

    This means you should probably keep your children away from him.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
  16. Woody

    The human is a mammal . The former and future pope will be old mammals too . The human no matter what we think we are , we are still only mammals . And the former pope will do like all other mammals on the earth . When we get old no matter what we retire from . We eventually all retire from life , just like all other creatures of the earth do . The pope is not an alien or something special . Just someone to put on a fantasy show for everyone that does not want to deal in reality !

    February 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  17. debra

    plays with himself! some more idk

    February 26, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  18. Universe

    God in Quran says, (Islamic scripture)

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    ‘They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism – he never was an idol worshiper." [2:135]

    “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    They do not value God as He should be valued. God is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.[22:74]

    If you obey the majority of people on earth, they will divert you from the path of God. They follow only conjecture; they only guess. [Quran 6:116]

    “There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Omniscient.” [2:256]

    O people, here is a parable that you must ponder carefully: the idols you set up beside God can never create a fly, even if they banded together to do so. Furthermore, if the fly steals anything from them, they cannot recover it; weak is the pursuer and the pursued. [22:73]

    “God: there is no other god besides Him, the Living, the Eternal. Never a moment of unawareness or slumber overtakes Him. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. Who could intercede with Him, except in accordance with His will? He knows their past, and their future. No one attains any knowledge, except as He wills. His dominion encompasses the heavens and the earth, and ruling them never burdens Him. He is the Most High, the Great.” [2:255]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website

    February 26, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  19. pUCKLES

    If you are a Catholic you are willfully supporting the worlds largest crime ring in the world and you will receive judgment for doing so. Hang you heads in shame. It is only a matter of time before this organization is brought down.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      They've been around for the past 2000 years and they'll probably be around for the next 2000 as well.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • ViK100

      I'm a proud Christian Catholic.. I put my head on the line for my church any day, any time!! I'm not the first and won't be the last!!

      But who am I to deserve a death like my Lord??

      February 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  20. robert

    "Prayer is something worth dedicating your life to." prayer is a waste of life.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.